By Mike Hoban
‘Fish Food’ – Written and Directed by Michael O’ Halloran; Presented by Avenue Stage, and performed by Geoffrey Pingree, Desmond O’Halloran, Eunice Simmons, Jennifer Jones, Molly O’Halloran, and Miss Mary Mac. At the Boston Playwrights Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, July 20-23.
Fish Food, a coming of age tale which premiered at the Dot 2 Dot Café in Dorchester before the company heads to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August, is a charming little comedy loosely based on playwright Michael O’Halloran’s experiences as a young adult in the hotel industry. Set around 1990, the play gives us O’Halloran’s fictional stand-in, Joe Bacon (portrayed by O’Halloran’s lookalike son Desmond in an appealingly innocent turn), who just turned 21 and is seeking a job at a swank downtown hotel (the ostentatiously named Grand Plaza Court). Owned by shady financier Avery Grand, whose modus operandi bears a striking resemblance to that of the current POTUS (right down to his book, “The Deal is Everything”), the play sends up the boozy, amoral world of luxury hospitality.
When we meet Joe, his life is in a bit of turmoil. He’s flunked out of college, is unemployed, his dad has died of a heart attack, his family house has burned down, his mother has run off and joined the Peace Corps in Burundi, and he has only a couple of days to find a new place to live. He applies for a job as a room service waiter at the hotel, enduring a wildly inappropriate interview with Avery Grand’s lusty Girl Friday, Lana (a very funny Eunice Simmons), and lands not only the job, but a place to live – with Lana’s party girl assistant Tiffany (the energetic Molly O’Halloran).
He visits his with his wise-cracking grandmother (the hilariously crotchety Jennifer Jones), to share the good news, but he’s met with a less than enthusiastic response. “Even Uncle Patsy – a vagrant! – never worked for tips!” she says, hiding her disappointment, before lovingly presenting him with a slice of birthday cake. When he reports for work on Monday, the hotel is as dysfunctional as a luxury version Fawlty Towers.
This play is largely a character-driven comedy, and really takes off when we meet his co-workers, an insane collection of people who, like Joe, are trying to find their way in the world. The Machiavellian Lana is the prototypical ‘yes’ girl (a perfect Trump employee), who seduces, then sets up the unwitting Joe in some form of illegal money laundering scheme; the twenty-something Tiffany lives a kind of dual existence – by day the highly efficient right-hand woman to Lana, while the rest of her life appears utterly aimless, including a romance with a retirement age woman; Uli, a lifelong luxury hotel employee who fears that she is aging out of her usefulness to the industry (and who, played by the wonderful Miss Mary Mac, is also a fine chanteuse); and Bobby Carlo (a gleefully over-the-top Geoffrey Pingree), the haughty sommelier who is being forced to do more and more tasks that he feels are beneath him, who, in an effort to maintain his bloated self-image, boasts to Joe, “I’ve slept with a Vice-President and two of the three actors who played Superman!”
Despite the dysfunction and sky-high levels of unhappiness of his co-workers, Joe finds himself being seduced by the lifestyle. As Bobby and Uli introduce him to the fine art of wine tasting, he asks, “How can I get a job like this?” to which Bobby quickly replies, “Stay out of this wretched business, darling.” Will he stay or will he go? That is the question. The company will be announcing further performance dates while they fine tune this very funny piece (which could probably shed a couple of extraneous plot points to sharpen its delivery), so keep your eyes and ears open for shows. For more info, go to: